- Experts think of 2 to 4 p.m. is the prime nap time window.
- With 20 minutes or less, you're taking a garden-variety power nap, which can improve your short-term alertness and performance
But it's not like everyone has been on the snooze train. "At one time we thought naps were bad for sleep and bad for us," says Natalie Dautovich, PhD, National Sleep Foundation's Environmental Scholar and assistant professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University. "I think we're starting to understand [napping is] a much more complex phenomenon." Even better, experts are beginning to think a midday nap could be the key to triumphing over the dreaded afternoon energy crash.
The ideal amount of nap time
When you sleep for 20 minutes or less, you're taking a garden-variety power nap, which can improve your short-term alertness and performance, says Dr. Dautovich. And that's the key to a quality power nap: Keep it under 20 minutes and you'll emerge refreshed. But any longer and your body enters a deeper slumber that's harder to wake up from, like your rapid eye movement, or REM, cycle.
"Your REM cycle is strongly connected to cognitive functions like creativity, memory and coming up with solutions to problems," says Dr. Robbins. "We believe that since [REM sleep is] so restorative, disrupting that cycle [by waking up in the midst of it] can throw you off." There's also the chance that you could wake up in a deep stage of sleep that experts call non-REM sleep stage 3. "It's more difficult to awaken from [this stage] of sleep than [others]," says Dr. Dautovich. "Whenever you wake up from a deeper stage of sleep, you can experience sleep inertia, which is a feeling of disorientation." So basically, keep things short.
Twenty minutes or less is the rule, unless you're really dragging, in which case you should get about 90 minutes of shut-eye. "This kind of nap is [best] for someone who had a bout of shortened sleep the night before," says Dr. Robbins, and will help you feel like you're mentally, physically and energetically restored on a deeper level.
If you can't get consistent, good quality sleep at night, says Dr. Robbins, you should be skipping the napping altogether. When you're regularly not getting rest or have insomnia issues, sleeping during the day can throw your circadian rhythm — your natural sleep and wake cycle — even further out of whack.
How to pimp out your nap
The best time to do it: "Most people experience a dip in energy and alertness in the early to mid-afternoon," says Dr. Dautovich. Experts aren't sure exactly why this occurs, although they think it may be built into the natural ebb and flow of your circadian rhythm. Having just eaten a meal can definitely exacerbate that sleepiness, says Dr. Robbins. That's why experts think of 2:00-4:00 p.m. as the prime nap time window. "It's the ideal time to engage in a nap because you're sleepy, but still far enough away from bedtime that you'll have the drive to sleep at night," says Dr. Dautovich. Just like that, you'll kick post-lunch fatigue to the curb.
Setting the scene: Start by silencing anything that emits a chirp, beep, buzz or other disrupting noise. "After you set your phone alarm, put it in airplane mode," advises Dr. Robbins. "Even if i